Ritter requests stockpiled drugs to prepare for swine flu in Colorado

Swine reclining (Photo/Brent and MariLynn, Flickr)

Swine reclining (Photo/Brent and MariLynn, Flickr)

Gov. Bill Ritter asked for Colorado’s share of antiviral drugs from a federal stockpile on Sunday as reports of swine flu cases mounted across the country. The request is a precaution, Ritter said, emphasizing that no cases of the deadly strain of influenza have been reported in Colorado. It’s just a matter of time, even though cases in the United States have so far been “relatively mild,” the state’s chief medical officer said in a statement.

“We are keeping in constant contact with federal authorities, particularly officials at the [Centers for Disease Control],” Gov. Ritter said Sunday at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver.

The disease has sicked upwards of 1,600 people and killed over 100 in Mexico, but only 20 cases of the virus have been identified in five states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. As of Sunday evening, there were eight cases in New York, seven in California and two cases each in Kansas and Texas. A single case had been confirmed in Ohio.

Track reported cases and fatalities worldwide on this nifty swine flu map application, created by a Pittsburgh biomedical researcher.

While the U.S. cases haven’t been severe, and only one has required hospitalization, officials are taking no chances preparing for what could be a pandemic. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declared a public health emergency Sunday but downplayed the move, saying the declaration was necessary to evaluate the threat.

Appearing with Ritter, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ned Calonge, issued guidelines to help stem any spread of the swine flu strain. “We are asking all individuals with mild flu-like illness to stay home,” he said. “This is regardless of travel history. Children and adolescents with fever should not go to day care or school. Adults with fever should not go to work until their symptoms resolve. Individuals with severe illness, such as difficulty breathing, should contact their health care provider.”

Colorado Department of Health officials could hand out fliers warning about symptoms to anyone arriving from Mexico at Denver International Airport, The Associated Press reports, noting the department took similar action in 2003 during a worldwide outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Starting Monday, concerned residents can call the state health department from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 1-877-462-2911 with questions about the swine flu.

The flu strain, officially known as swine influenza A (H1N1), has symptoms similar to seasonal flu, including: fever over 100°F, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, chills, headache and body aches and fatigue. Some people, officials said, have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

The state health department urged Coloradans to take these precautions to lessen the likelihood of getting the flu:

• Wash hands frequently
• Cover your sneezes and coughs
• Avoid others with respiratory illnesses

Check out this thorough guide to preventing flu transmission posted by DemConWatch blogger Doc Jess, who happens to be a real doctor. Find detailed instructions on how to wash your hands — it turns out most people don’t do it well enough to keep from spreading the flu.

In addition, the state recommends making sure households are prepared for extended stays at home by having sufficient food, water “and other necessities” on hand.

Even though the infectious swine flu strain initially jumped to people from pigs, officials point out it’s “passed from person to person and not from pigs or from eating pork.”

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Ernest Luning

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